Neoconservative critics have long charged Middle Eastern studies departments with anti-American bias. Now they've enlisted Congress in their crusade.
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By Michelle Goldberg
Nov. 6, 2003 | On Oct. 21, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that could require university international studies departments to show more support for American foreign policy or risk their federal funding. Its approval followed hearings this summer in which members of Congress listened to testimony about the pernicious influence of the late Edward Said in Middle Eastern studies departments, described as enclaves of debased anti-Americanism. Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a right-wing think tank, testified, "Title VI-funded programs in Middle Eastern Studies (and other area studies) tend to purvey extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy." Evidently, the House agreed and decided to intervene.
Emboldened by its dominance of Washington, the right is trying to enlist government on its side in the campus culture wars. "Since they are the mainstream in Washington think tanks and the right-wing corridors of Congress, they figure, 'Let's translate that political capital to education,'" says Rashid Khalidi, who was recently appointed to the Edward Said Chair of Arab studies at Columbia University.
It's not surprising that they started with Middle Eastern studies. There's a particular enmity between hard-line supporters of Israel -- who, with the extraordinary ascension of neoconservatives in the Bush administration, now dominate the American right -- and academics who specialize in studying the Arab and Muslim world. That enmity burst into open conflict after Sept. 11, when conservatives saw an opportunity to accuse Middle East academics not just of biased scholarship but of representing a kind of intellectual fifth column. Soon after the World Trade Center fell, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington-based group co-founded by Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., published a report called "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It," which listed examples of insufficiently patriotic behavior of the part of the professoriate and called universities the "weak link" in the war on terror.